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Is there a vaccine against malaria?

A mosquito on skin.
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Ways for travelers to protect themselves from malaria

One piece of good news spotted on news feeds recently is that the World Health Organization has approved a vaccine against malaria, a tropical disease that kills one child a minute. But can vacationers and business travelers from the US get a shot for malaria?

What malaria vaccine is there?

The bad news is that leisure and business travelers visiting tropical regions from the US cannot access the malaria vaccine yet. Mosquirix is still in very short supply, so it’s reserved for use by some of the 25 million children living in areas where malaria is endemic. And the newer R21/Matrix-M is still at the trial stage.

Am I at risk from malaria?

Travelers visiting parts of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle East and certain Pacific Islands may be exposed to the parasite that causes malaria.

Infection with the parasite, which is picked up when a certain species of mosquito bites you, causes a feverish illness that can be fatal, and usually makes you unwell enough to ruin your vacation. Malaria has a long recovery period, and you may have to take time off work while you get well from it.

What should I do to avoid infection with malaria?

Travelers have a four-step process for avoiding malaria:

  • A is for awareness of the risk of malaria
  • B is for bite prevention
  • C is chemoprophylaxis to protect against malaria
  • D is for diagnosis
Awareness of malaria in the region you are traveling to

It can be hard to work out whether you will be exposed to malaria on your trip abroad as the malaria map changes by the season; and you chances of exposure to the parasite that causes malaria will vary depending on where you are staying and what activities you have planned.

So it’s best to make an appointment with a travel health advisor six to eight weeks before your trip abroad. They can tell you about your malaria risk, and help you take steps to avoid infection.

Bite prevention to avoid malaria infection

Taking research-based steps to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos will reduce the chances of you being infected by the parasite that causes malaria. At your travel health appointment, the travel health nurse will tell you what steps you need to take to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. Mosquitos also carry other diseases like zika and chikungunya which can’t be prevented by a vaccine or chemoprophylaxis.

Chemoprophylaxis in the form of malaria tablets

There are several drugs available that disrupt the malaria parasite. It’s best to talk to a travel health practitioner about malaria tablets as not everyone can take every kind of antimalarial. You may also want some help working out when to start and stop your course of antimalarials.

Some kinds of malaria pill are only available on prescription, so you’ll need a travel health appointment to access them.

Diagnosis of malaria

Malaria is a dangerous illness, but it can be treated, and you can avoid the worst of its effects with a prompt diagnosis. There is always the chance that, even with the best precautions in the world, you’ll catch malaria when traveling in the tropics. That’s why it’s important to get medical advice if you fall ill with a fever while traveling, or shortly after you return to the US.

Where can I learn more about the malaria vaccine?

World Health Organization news story: WHO recommends groundbreaking malaria vaccine for children at risk